Last week I had the opportunity to tour the Bayer Bee Care Center in North Carolina. I was excited, but also a little anxious for the tour.
As farmers, we know how important bees are for our food system. But we also like to think that we are doing things right. And honestly, I was a little nervous about what I might hear, and what I would, or wouldn't, be able to do about it.
Are modern farm families responsible for the alarming bee reports that flood our news feeds? Am I killing the bees?
When I walked through the doors, I was prepared to learn that I was. But here's what I learned instead...
1. Honey bees are not actually native to North America.
They were brought here by settlers who knew they would need them for food production. It's said the first bees arrived here in 1622 and that Native Americans called them "white man's flies." Even though they are not native, our food system is now dependent on them and the other 4,000 species of bees found in North America.
2. Spraying isn't killing bees.
As long as we are following label directions and spraying responsibly, which we do, our spraying practices are not deadly to bee populations. Some of our pesticides are toxic to bees but we have to remember "the dose makes the poison." The amounts the bees have exposure to with proper spraying is not enough to cause them harm. In similar concept, even though caffeine is toxic to humans, it's not dangerous to us in normal exposure amounts.
3. But mites are.
Varroa mites are one of the leading causes of honey bee death and it's becoming more challenging to deal with them as they develop resistance to what use to be effective treatments. As the researcher at Bayer Bee Care Center explained, "It's a challenge to find something to treat a bug that lives on a bug."
Varroa mites are parasites that live on the bees and can quickly infest an entire colony.
4. Honey bee populations aren't actually going down.
Even with the challenges of health and disease, bee populations have actually been steadily increasing over the last few decades, hitting an all time high in 2014.
5. Even though we aren't hurting the bees, we can actually be doing more to help.
I felt relief that our farming practices are not killing the bees, but I still left with a feeling that more can be done.
Many bees are loosing their environment and food sources. A bee will visit up to 5000 flowers per day, and many of them have to travel 5 or more miles to get to those flowers.
While we don't have the practical knowledge or expertise to manage hives, we do have the ability to grow wild flowers and other plants good for pollinators.
Which is exactly what we will do. In 2018, we plan on mapping out some areas of that farm that we can reserve for honey bees and other important pollinators! I'll do my best to keep you posted on our new pollinator areas next year.
Kate Lambert grew up in northern Illinois, not on a farm but active in FFA and showing livestock.
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